One of the latest entries in the progressive metal genre is Sphere of Souls, currently signed to the Lion Music label. The band have quite a bit of depth and atmosphere in their music. There is a bit of history behind this band that people may not be aware of. We get into a variety of things in this discussion. If you have not heard this band, it really is worth checking out. Use this chat as a bit of an overview on the band, the music, and more. Lets go ahead and get right to this interview and get the good word out!
Heavy Metal Resource: Hey, I appreciate you taking the time to do this interview with me!
Kees Harrison: It’s our pleasure. Thanks for your interest in the band and your review of ‘From the Ashes…’.
H.M.R. : Why don't we start off with you giving us a bit of a background on the band. There is a Sun Caged connection obviously, but give us an idea how things came about.
Kees: The history of Sphere of Souls can be traced back to the formation of Imperium in 1990. This band featured André Vuurboom on vocals, Michel and Rob Cerrone on guitars, Remco Nijkamp on bass and Patrick Gerritzen on drums. They released an album called ‘Too Short A Season’ on Mascot Records/Leviathan in 1993. Shortly after the album was released, Rob left to further pursue his education and the band continued as a four-piece under the name of Souls of Inbetween. There are some definite musical parallels between Sphere of Souls and these two bands.
After Souls of In between André disappeared from the scene for a number of years, eventually resurfacing with the progressive metal band Jera, who recorded a demo entitled ‘Grip’ in 2001. The following year Jera played a gig with Sun Caged, whose then vocalist had already announced his intention to leave the band. Sun Caged immediately saw a prospective replacement in André and asked him if he was interested in joining them. He agreed, and Jera subsequently split. The keyboard player in Sun Caged at that time was Joost van den Broek.
Around this time (March 2002) I auditioned for Autumn Equinox, a technical prog-metal band that had already been on the scene for a couple of years and played music very much in the Dream Theater vein. This is where I met Ruud van Diepen. When I joined, the band had already begun recording a demo, which was unfortunately never completed. Just over a year later Ruud left and the band promptly dissolved.
When Joost left Sun Caged to join After Forever in May 2004, André also opted out. I had known André for just over a year at that point and a couple of days later I received a mail from him asking if I was interested in participating in a prospective ‘new project’. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity. Joost subsequently offered to produce and play keyboards on what we initially thought would be a demo. Patrick Gerritzen then joined on drums and Anand Mahangoe agreed to contribute guitar solos. André spent the following eight months writing songs and recording demos and I went over a couple of times to record some bass tracks. However, we still had no permanent guitarists, so André called Rob Cerrone and asked if he was interested. He was, and joined the band immediately.
In February 2005 we rehearsed with this line-up (minus Joost), but it soon became apparent that Patrick wasn’t going to be able to combine the band with his other commitments. I knew that Ruud didn’t have a serious band at that point and was keen for him to be involved, so I spoke to him and he agreed to an audition. The audition was a resounding success, so we immediately set about rehearsing the songs for ‘From the Ashes…’ with him. However, the studio was booked and we only had a time frame of six weeks in which to prepare, so we had a task on our hands. We managed it though. This is the line-up (myself, André, Rob, Joost and Ruud) that we entered the studio with. The rhythm guitar parts on the album were all played by Rob and André. André also played all of the clean guitar parts.
The last person to join Sphere of Souls was Anand Mahangoe. Anand and André have known one another since the late ‘80s and Anand had initially offered to play solos on ‘From the Ashes…’ as a favour and purely as a guest musician. He recorded his solos at his home studio after having been given only the relevant audio fragments (no complete songs). However, he was so impressed upon hearing the completed album that he asked if he could join. We had been looking for a permanent lead guitarist for some time, so this was ideal. Prior to Sphere of Souls Anand had made instrumental music in the style of Joe Satriani, etc., but nothing in the prog-metal vein, so we were somewhat surprised by his enthusiasm, but obviously extremely pleased. Incidentally, Anand released two solo albums (‘A Man’s Mind’ and ‘Joy 4 Ever’) through Lion Music and has his own website at http://www.anandmahangoeproject.com. Joost was also a member of his solo band during 2003 and 2004.
As you can see, each member of Sphere of Souls has played with one of the other members in a previous band at some point, so we knew exactly who was joining and what we could expect from one another.
H.M.R. : I was surprised to find Anand in the band. I was familiar with his solo work, but didn't realize he was in Sphere of Souls. I think that's pretty cool. Anyway, the new album was released recently. How man markets are you expecting to get it into?
Kees: I spoke to Lasse (Mattsson, Head of Lion Music) about this recently and he told me that they have just signed a deal with Plastic Head Distribution for the UK and Germany. The rest of Europe and the US are also covered and small quantities of CDs are sent to a few Japanese chains. Lasse is expecting a deal for Russia soon and also trying to arrange something in Brazil.
H.M.R. : Definitely some important markets to get the album out in. Hope all goes well with the possible markets! Getting to what the album is all about, the music. It came across to me with a lot of atmosphere and mood. Where do you think Sphere of Souls will be classified musically? I hear mention of progressive but I feel it's a bit deeper than that.
Kees: We have always referred to ourselves as a progressive metal band and I doubt that anyone who is familiar with the metal genre as a whole would classify us much differently, but I do agree with you in the sense that the tag perhaps doesn’t entirely do the music justice. We have all played progressive music in one form or another in the past, but the crucial difference between Sphere of Souls and some of our previous bands is that the emphasis is placed first and foremost on songwriting as opposed to virtuosity. This enables aspects such as the lyrics, their meaning, and the overall mood to be brought to the fore, which provides the music with far greater depth.
H.M.R. : That is something I definitely picked up on and was very happy to hear in this album was the fact that the songwriting did come first. It is getting harder to be successful in this genre these days outside of the bands that have already set their foundation. That's a good place for you to be. One thing that I didn't quite pick up on was the title of the album after checking out the artwork. Give us some insight on the story behind this.
Kees: ‘From the Ashes...’ is the story of son who ultimately becomes the same as his father. Consequently, when the father is committed to ashes, a clone is already in the making. As the main character’s life deteriorates, he slowly disappears into the ‘forest’ of his own isolation. This is depicted by the album cover. The story concludes with him sat alone in front of the television in a hotel room, oblivious to all that surrounds him. In the CD booklet this is represented by a hotel corridor and in particular the doors to ‘Room 9’ and ‘Room 6’, all of which are surrounded by forest.
H.M.R. : I kind of figured it was deeper and that sounds really cool. It only adds to my thoughts of the album having a musically visual quality about it. I was kind of curious on your opinion on something. I look at the scene in Europe and am continually amazed at how long it has lasted. I have asked other people about this, but what in your opinion is the reason for this. The scene in the States is much different and much more unstable.
Kees: Well, I don’t really know a great deal about the situation in the States, but countries like the Netherlands and Germany have always been strongholds for alternative music in general. For example, fans and the music media in this genre are relatively loyal and less fickle than they can be elsewhere. This gives bands and certain music styles greater longevity.
Furthermore, venues are often subsidized, so payment is a fairly standard requirement, even for less established bands. This gives musicians a lot more power. You can usually at the very least break even, if not make a profit. For example, I grew up in England and gigging there was much more difficult. We only ever lost money, which is very frustrating, not to mention expensive. In general, musicians seem to be treated more fairly here, which perhaps makes people less likely to throw in the towel at an early stage.
H.M.R. : Wow, that is interesting. There are few places that pay anything especially to more unknown bands here in the States. On that note, I'm curious on what it would take for Sphere of Souls to break into this market in your opinion.
Kees: Extensive promotion, networking, gigging and determination. I don’t think there’s any other way to achieve that kind of success playing alternative music… unless you’re extremely lucky.
H.M.R. : It really is a tough nut to crack. I think the lucky portion plays huge in the domestic market here anymore. As far as touring, where are your favorite places to play at this point?
Kees: To be honest, I’ve not yet played any further afield than England, the Netherlands and Germany, so I can’t really say. I’ve heard some amazing stories from Joost about his South American tour with After Forever and hope that we will, at some stage, be able to do something similar. Ask me again then.
H.M.R. : On the topic of touring, with the Summer coming around the corner, do you have anything confirmed yet as far as shows or festivals?
Kees: We’re currently concentrating on the official release party for the CD, which will take place on 12 May at Plato (http://www.plato.helmondweb.nl) in Helmond, the Netherlands. Joost, who doesn’t usually rehearse or play live with us (we usually use a backing track for the keyboards), will be joining us for the occasion, so it should be a special evening! We have a few other things in the pipeline, but nothing concrete… yet!
H.M.R. : So what does the band listen to and how's does it influence your songwriting?
Kees: We all have different musical backgrounds and listening tastes, although most of the influences you hear on the album will be André’s, as he wrote the concept, lyrics and almost all of the music this time around. The most obvious sources of inspiration would be Fates Warning and Psychotic Waltz. However, the writing process for the next album will be a band effort, so the music will undoubtedly encompass a wider range of influences.
H.M.R. : Have you got any good road stories at this point?
Kees: Not yet, but we’re all pretty well behaved and half the band is teetotal (myself included), so they probably wouldn’t be particularly exciting anyway.
H.M.R. : Will there be any video-related material for the album? With the band’s sound already being visual, I think it would be very cool to see it come across in some form of video presentation such as a promotional video or something like that.
Kees: We have discussed this, but not in any kind of detail. I agree that the music would lend itself well to something of this nature, but we wouldn’t like to do it by halves. It would have to be of a high quality and represent the band in a fitting manner. There would also have to be a reasonable likelihood of it being broadcast. If the need were to arise, I’m sure we’d do it.
H.M.R. : I would love to see it! At this point in the interview, I give you the opportunity to mention anything that we may have not covered.
H.M.R. : I thank you again for taking the time and giving us some insight on Sphere of Souls. Good luck with the album and keep us posted!
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